Friday’s attack on a Melbourne mosque is more than deplorable. It represents an apparent and potentially deadly escalation in a series of attacks on local houses of worship.

Only by chance was Delacie Phillips, a member of the Islamic Society of Brevard, not killed by shots fired from a wooded area across from the mosque.

But he was nicked in the hand as a shot shattered a window above his head, and was forced to take cover as five more bullets struck the building’s south side.

Authorities have not classified it as a hate crime, although it appears to be one. That’s why investigators are pulling out the stops: The FBI, federal Joint Terrorism Task force and Florida Department of Law Enforcement are joining Melbourne Police in the probe.

Fortunately, the cowardly shooter or shooters left behind footprints and a pair of binoculars that indicates possible premeditation and might offer evidence of identity.

Punishing the guilty is essential to show this community wholly rejects violence or intimidation against people of any faith, whether they be Muslims or others whose victimization displays the pointless destruction of blind ignorance.

Such action is on the rise, with 334 hate crimes reported last year in Florida, up 22 percent over 2004.

Locally, in the past 12 months, Cocoa’s Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church was defaced with the statement “I eat babies to stay young,” and a Nazi swastika was painted on the Kol Mashiach Messianic synagogue in Melbourne.

But Melbourne’s mosque now has been targeted three times: A crude crucifix was scrawled on its wall last October; last week, shots, possibly from an air rifle, were fired at the mosque, and then there was Friday’s far more dangerous attack.

The shooters might, in some twisted way, be responding to Islamic militants’ attacks on Christian churches in the Mideast that followed a 14th-century quotation by Pope Benedict XVI to show the need for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

The pope has since apologized for having offended some Muslims, met with Islamic leaders, and reiterated his respect for the Muslim faith.

In that same spirit, the Central Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has collected money to repair the damaged Mideast churches, giving credence to Islamic statements against such destruction.


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